I have loved the church I've attended here in New Orleans. It's Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, but it's also Southern Gospel. I've been a Lutheran for 30 years and I'll tell you what, this is nothing like it is up north. It's the Lutheran Liturgy combined with hand-clapping and dancing and raising hands to heaven and shouting "Amen!" Jubilant. I have loved it.
So I'm sorry to leave. Today was my last Sunday there.
For a couple of weeks I've been singing a song I haven't heard for awhile, "Give Thanks With A Grateful Heart." I was going to sing/play (guitar) it on that recording my mother and I made at Christmas, but I had no voice for 10 days. I really like that song. I've been singing it around the campground for awhile. I started thinking, I could sing that in church... I could ask the pastor if I can do a musical offering, I could find out if the organist knows it.... naw, that would be too pushy. They don't know me from nobody. I'm that white lady that's been going to church all winter. (I've often been the only white person there.) Should I sing? Should I ask? No.... sure, why not.... no.... But alone I've sung it over and over and just felt so happy, thinking how thankful I have been for this church all winter.
I ended up not asking.
But in the middle of the service.... guess what the sermon hymn was. You don't have to guess, do you??? I kid you not. And it's not in the hymn book. The words were printed in the bulletin.
They sang my song, without my having mentioned it.
People ask all the time whether God ("if there is a God") hears and answers prayer. If you ask me, this was a direct hit.
I was thunderstruck. I got to sing it after all, along with all the people around me. Way better than a show-off solo.
Other songs today that felt like affirmations of my hiking hopes:
The choir did a song with the refrain, "We've come too far by faith to turn back now."
Then the communion hymn was, "Just As I Am."
"Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without...
...... I come."
After church, when I shook hands with the pastor, he told me to go wait for him in the office. Uh-oh, what'd I do? Turns out they had parting gifts for me. A Bible with "Holy Cross Lutheran Church" embossed on the front; on the inside cover, the pastor and each of the elders had written a blessing note, including, "Let His word be a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path." "Walk with God.". I had told the pastor a few weeks ago about my plan to hike the Trail, the day I got the ditty bag with the earplugs. Also in the package was a little glass paperweight etched with the words: "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" And a little lapel pin shaped like a nail spike with the word "Forgiven" on it. I'll take that on my hike. There was also a beautiful cross to hang on the wall.
I can't describe how much this church has meant to me. They have been so full of joy and thanksgiving and faith in spite of having had their homes destroyed, their church destroyed, their neighborhoods destroyed.... they have changed my life.
I don't know for sure that I'll finish my hike in Maine. I don't know what's ahead. But that's OK. One of the sermons at this church was about the Light of the World, and the pastor talked about headlights. He said, you can't see everything with your headlights, but you can see what's just ahead, enough to keep on going. It's like that with the Lord, he said. Trust and your way will be lit just far enough for you to take your next step.
So I don't know what's ahead in the next 6 months but I'm pretty darn confident that I'm intended to start hiking.
God gave me a "Yes."